Immigration policy and racism

One of my readers said to me in an email “I'm a little upset that I haven't read anything about immigration in your blog.”  So as to avoid any further distress to Jessica, here goes.  Seems like an appropriate day as comprehensive immigration reform died an ignominious death in the Senate today:

The bill's opponents painted the fight as a battle between U.S.
citizens and a government that has grown insensitive to an
illegal-immigrant invasion that threatens the nation's fabric.
Proponents said the Senate had succumbed to the angry voices of hate,
venom and racism.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy
(D-Mass.), one of the bill's architects, compared the fight to the
Senate's long struggle for civil rights legislation against
segregationist opponents.

“You cannot stop the march for progress in the United States,” he said.

To that, Sen. David Vitter
(R-La.), among the bill's most aggressive foes, snapped: “To suggest
this was about racism is the height of ugliness and arrogance.”

I've got news for Senator Vittner, it may be the height of ugliness and arrogance, but it is, at least in part, true.  Just out of pure political science curiosity Mike Cobb and I ran some analysis on immigration policy attitudes a few months back using NES data.  There's a fairly good measure of prejudice as respondents rate Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics on intelligence, trustworthiness, hard-working, etc.  Subtracting the mean scores for Hispanics as the target group from the scores for Whites gives a pretty good measure of prejudice.  Put this variable into a regression model predicting attitudes towards immigration policy, with all the requisite control variables, and you find that, among Whites, the prejudice measure predicts attitudes towards immigration policy better than about anything else.  Not to say other factors, e.g., conservative ideology, education, etc., do not matter, but ethnic prejudice appears to outweigh all of them.  As far as our Republican Senators go, they “doth protest to much” on this point. 

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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